All posts by Jeff Epperly

Never forget

There is historical precedent for beating back Nazis in the streets.

The Battle of Cable Street

Funds eliminated for Life After Hate program

The wife of a Trump official with ties to Nazi groups has cut funding to one of the few programs meant to rehab home-grown terrorists.

File under: you can’t make this shit up.

Trump official Seb Gorka in one of his many media appearances where he dismissed the notion of “lone wolf” terrorists — one person acting alone — taking matters into their own hands without direct supervision.

Some of the Unite The Right Nazis are “fine people”

At least that’s what Trump said today in a press conference where he reverted to what we must now accept he is: a Nazi sympathizer. That’s not hyperbole. What other conclusion can be drawn from his bizarre behavior today?

Watch this shocking, frightening video and make up your own mind whether the Nazi marchers are “fine people.”

All of this Nazi marching takes on a more sinister tone if you realize, as much as you might not have wanted to believe it before, that an office that once represented as the leader of the free world because of World War II is now held by a guy who, in effect, smears the memories of all who died in World War II.

Nazis march in American streets in 2017.

Congress Revamps Housing Program To Benefit Areas Where HIV Is Spreading

In a bipartisan push, Congress has restructured a federal program that provides housing assistance for people living with HIV to funnel more money into areas struggling to control the outbreak.

While legislators and housing advocates say the adjustments will better target regions with high rates of the virus, these changes are likely to mean less money for some of the large cities that confronted the early effects of the epidemic.

To help with the transition, Congress increased funding for the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program about 6 percent this year. In the past, this money was distributed across the country based on a jurisdiction’s cumulative number of cases (including people who had died).

Now under the 2017 funding, finalized by Congress in May, HOPWA has awarded $320.4 million to qualifying states and local jurisdictions to be apportioned primarily based on their share of the total number of people living with the virus. The number of cases required to qualify for funding also changed from 1,500 cumulative AIDS cases to 2,000 living cases of HIV/AIDS.

No jurisdiction will receive less HOPWA money than in 2016, but about 25 cities and counties are getting a smaller piece of the pie than before. The top five seeing their percentage of funding drop are, in order, New York City, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Houston.

“As the formula is fully implemented, without additional funds those jurisdictions will lose out,” said Opal Jones, vice president of the National AIDS Housing Coalition, a housing advocacy group in favor of the formula change. “It’s a great start. It’s just not enough.”

The program, which began in 1992, provides financial assistance to help participants pay for rent, mortgage and utility costs. HOPWA also offers competitive grants to jurisdictions and organizations, but that allotment accounts for only about 10 percent of its budget and is not included in the $320.4 million.

Shelter represents one of the most important factors in determining an individual’s success in HIV treatment. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the HOPWA program, housing instability is linked to delayed testing and gaps in care. The department estimates roughly half of the individuals living with HIV in the U.S. will experience a housing crisis in their lifetime.

“I think we can’t underestimate the power that home has in improving the health in somebody with a chronic condition,” said Russell Bennett, executive director of the National AIDS Housing Coalition.

Shyronn Jones, 39, has struggled financially since she was diagnosed with HIV. She was once a homeowner in New York, but when she moved to Atlanta several years ago, the only housing she could afford was an apartment in a crime-ridden pocket of the city. She was having trouble getting medical care, her white blood cell count dipped to dangerously low levels, and her mental health deteriorated.

But then, a housing assistance organization connected Jones to HOPWA, which helped her to move into a better neighborhood with a nearby grocery store, post office and park, where her daughter can play.

“I had a lot riding on HOPWA,” she said. “HOPWA just saved me.”

Seeking to soften the impact of the formula change, the law increased appropriations this year so that each jurisdiction would see at least a small rise in funding. Over time, areas with higher rates of HIV transmission, such as the South, will continue seeing increases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 44 percent of all individuals living with HIV in the country reside in the South, even though only 37 percent of the U.S. population live in the region.

The extra $20 million allocation nationwide this year translated to double-digit percentage increases for more than 100 out of the 140 participating jurisdictions. Smaller cities such as Greenville, S.C., and Syracuse, N.Y., saw their funding jump by nearly 14 percent. Notably, some larger metropolitan hubs such as Portland, Ore., and Chicago also saw similar growth in their grants.

But efforts to funnel money into current HIV epicenters without additional funding could mean cuts for large metropolitan areas such as Atlanta and New York. To mitigate potential losses, the program’s statute stipulates that over the next five years, a grantee cannot lose more than 5 percent or gain more than 10 percent of its share of the previous year’s total HOPWA formula funds.

“We’ll see some losses in funding [for some areas] over the years,” said Rita Flegel, director of the Office of HIV/AIDS Housing. “And then money will be distributed more evenly among people living with HIV.”

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who was one of the co-sponsors of the bill that reformulated the funding, said the phase-in coupled with the boost in funding helped assuage fears of cutbacks among lawmakers from areas with a legacy of large numbers of HIV cases.

“People of all sorts of political persuasions supported this because this was a question of fairness,” he said. Yet, “it was very clear that we needed to increase the size of the pie to make this proposition less difficult.”

One of the cities that could lose out is the nation’s capital. Nearly 13,000 residents, or nearly 2 percent of the population, live with HIV in Washington, D.C., according to the city’s health department.

HOPWA has not been able to keep up with demand of the area’s residents and the city discontinued its waiting list last year with more than 1,200 individuals, according to Michael Kharfen, the senior deputy director of the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration. The area is expected to receive $11.2 million, a 1 percent increase from last year’s funding.

But the nation’s capital is not unique in its struggle to keep up with the demand. According to the latest data from HUD, 138,427 HIV-affected households across the country were in need of housing assistance.

Jones, of Atlanta, now resides in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a neighborhood she dreamed of while growing up in New York City.

Her white blood cell count has doubled since her move, she said, and her mental state has improved. Jones, who is a policy fellow for the HIV advocacy organization Positive Women’s Network USA and runs a business that advises HIV patients on resources, is grateful to HOPWA for the assistance. But she said she hopes to become self-sufficient and help others dealing with situations similar to those she once faced.

“That’s what I’m striving for,” she said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

The New Yorker looks at “large adult sons”

This article in The New Yorker looking at the internet meme of “large adult sons” is both well-written and engaging. But it also left me questioning: what’s the point?

Two excerpts from magazine contributor Jia Tolentino‘s article: 

One of history’s most disastrous adult sons, King Ferdinand I of Austria is said to be best remembered for his command to his cook: when told he could not have apricot dumplings because apricots were out of season, he said “I am the Emperor, and I want dumplings!”

This seems to be roughly when the large-son meme went more or less mainstream. It had been germinating in arcane corners of the Internet for a couple of years by then. In 2012, the Twitter user @MuscularSon, who eventually deleted his account, started tweeting in character as a beleaguered father of several mythically rowdy boys. “i cant control my enormous nerd sons. they force me to cosplay as a police box from Dr Who and take turns paintballing my enormous nude torso,” he wrote. And later, “my two awful big sons got into the 20 quarts of hummus i have and now their heading toward The City.” In November, 2013, @dril, the ur-account for this genre of absurdist online humor, tweeted, “i have trained my two fat identical sons to sit outside of my office and protect my brain from mindfreaks by meditating intensely.” In 2014, he tweeted, “please pray for my sons Thursten and Gorse, who have just glued themselves to a curtain.” By then, the image—a tornado of havoc around a couple of big, rambunctious sons—had somehow solidified as a comic trope.

And: 

The large-adult-son meme takes wing from the idea that men overcompensate when they are humiliated, and that a primary source of this humiliation is interdependence—sons act out when they are defined by their fathers, and fathers are disgraced by the oafish flailing of their sons. But it’s memes all the way down with this Administration: Trump, the father of the large adult son of the summer, is himself, clearly, a large adult son. He is the loudmouthed, mischievous, and disorderly child of a presiding father. He loves to get behind the wheel of a truck and pose for the cameras like an important birthday boy. The Web site Gossip Cop recently ran an earnest post headlined “Donald Trump Does not Wear ‘Adult Diapers,’ Despite Speculation.” These are strange times we live in. The seas are warming, the summer is ending; each day lasts a century, and we are everywhere ruled by large adult sons.

It’s all well done and readable, and sometimes the art of journalism (and opposed to the craft practiced by hard news reporters) is simply to chronicle something in a truthful and informative way.

Yet after reading this I was wishing  Tolentino had acknowledged that  what is different is that now these sorts of self-centered, self-serving and puerile behaviors are becoming so commonplace. And that is where their biggest danger lies: they are beginning to normalize behavior that was once thought uncommon and boorish.

I hesitate to use the alarmist “what abou the children?” line because it has been used so often to excuse bigotry. But I think it is useful now.

What about the children who could once look up to the office of the presidency? What are we telling them when an office that was once, sometimes grudgingly, seen as the Leader Of The Free World, is forevermore seen as up for grabs by people whose only interest seems to be their self-interests?

And what are we telling them when the leaders of our country — and say what you will about Johnson, Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes, but at least they knew when to act presidential in public– no longer even care to act as if they presidency should be above certain levels of untruth and pettiness?

Those are the important questions about this internet meme unaddressed by the article.

Computer, I’d like a hand-tossed large pepperoni

Scientists are overcoming the vexing problems of teaching a robot to make and knead pizza dough. And it has profound implications for the workforce.

When the subject of robots taking over jobs comes up in conversation, people usually think of repetitive jobs such as those on an assembly line where placing or welding one part repeatedly means using the exact movements over and over again. Simple stuff for a robot, which is why so many of those jobs are gone forever.

Yet robotics researchers are overcoming hurdles in more complicated tasks.

Think of the last time you watched someone make a pizza  — the kind where they toss and spin and knead the dough into a pan. This looks rather simple, but for humans (and, potentially, a robot) it requires spatial, visual and touch abilities that are quite complicated. Anyone (including a robot can) simply mix the dough. But getting it to the size and thickness required for a pizza requires, among other things, senses of pressure and the ability to judge the length and thickness of a malleable object.

Some researchers at the University of Naples (where they know good pizza) are overcoming these  dough-y obstacles, and their doing so has profound implications for a dizzying array of tasks once thought immune from takeover by artificial intelligence:

“Preparing a pizza involves an extraordinary level of agility and dexterity,” says Siciliano, who directs a robotics research group at the University of Naples Federico II. Stretching a deformable object like a lump of dough requires a precise and gentle touch. It is one of the few things humans can handle, but robots cannot—yet.

Siciliano’s team has been developing a robot nimble enough to whip up a pizza pie, from kneading dough to stretching it out, adding ingredients and sliding it into the oven. RoDyMan (short for Robotic Dynamic Manipulation) is a five-year project supported by a €2.5-million grant from the European Research Council. Like a human chef, RoDyMan must toss the dough into the air to stretch it, following it as it spins and anticipating how it will change shape. The bot will debut in May 2018 at the legendary Naples pizza festival.

RoDyMan has been working this spring toward a milestone: stretching the dough without tearing it. To guide the robot, Siciliano’s team recruited master pizza chef Enzo Coccia to wear a suit of movement-tracking sensors. “We learn [Coccia’s] motions, and we mimic them with RoDyMan,” Siciliano says.

This strategy makes a lot of sense, says robotics researcher Nikolaus Correll of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has modeled flexible motion with rubber springs but was not involved in Siciliano’s research. “Someone who’s learning how to make a pizza would use feedback from their hands,” he adds. “You’d just take the dough and start pulling and try to experience it.”

You can read the rest of the article from Scientific American here.

Giving the mentally ill a green light toward violence

This is the headline over a story in Al-Jazeera:

I don’t want to seem too reductive, since the answers to that question are complicated underneath any seemingly simple answers.

But the short answers as they relate to the Portland stabbing incident seem IMHO to be:

  1. Jeremy Christian, the confessed prime suspect in the Portland incident, is clearly not a well person mentally. That does not excuse what he did. But people like him used to be forced to wander the streets and scream their paranoid nonsense to nobody in particular. Now they have their dangerous views reinforced by InfoWars and Fox News.
  2. The election of Donald Trump has, despite how anyone might feel about why he might or might not have been the best candidate, has unleashed a torrent of uncivil behavior in America. Trump is, whatever his strengths or weaknesses, a man who shows people that being rude and, well, basically immature in public is a strength. If the President can do it, why not the rest of us?

Jerk-y behavior has always been with us. It’s just been given a public platform by the current resident of the White House. That is pretty much unprecedented in our presidents, from whom both sides once expected at least a minimum level of maturity and public restraint. 

Not any longer. 

If you’re mentally ill and you already have InfoWars telling you that “they” (whomever “they”might be in your worldview) are coming to get your guns. give your job to immigrants, and take away your free speech, you’re already primed for uncivil behavior in public.

Now, for the first time, throw in a president for whom saying and doing whatever he wants, regardless of the circumstances, is a virtue and not a flaw, why in the world would anyone think that the Jeremy Christians of the world would not be more likely to act on their crazy impulses?

I’m not the first person to point any of this out. But I do think all of this needs to be repeated and stressed every time one of these incidents happens. 

Words and actions have consequences, especially for those who are already battling mental illness and/or alcoholism and drug abuse.

If those of us who are not mentally ill are screaming at one another in public, why should the mentally ill feel any need to restrain themselves at all?

“Free speech or die”: Portland stabbing suspect yells in court.

 

“Snowpiercer” is the worst movie I’ve ever watched

Tilda Swinton’s considerable acting chops are on display in this movie as perhaps the most annoying bureaucrat ever, but it’s all for naught.

As you can tell from the scene above from the movie “Snowpiercer,” they apparently have cows (and chickens) on the eponymous train to provide a meat locker in a very long perpetual motion vehicle which is the last refuge of humanity after a climate catastrophe. They also have an elaborate aquarium to provide fish and a train car or two made into greenhouses to grow crops. 

The wealthy passengers in the front of the train (think First Class on a plane) want for nothing. While the scum in the back of the train are treated just as poorly as any coach passenger on United Airlines could expect to be treated. Even worse. (But not by much.)

In fact, the back passengers are made to stay in their place in the grime where they are fed nothing but gelatinous protein bars we learn, to the lead character’s horror in one scene, are made from insects.

At first I thought, “OK, the only reason the wealthy passengers are keeping the poor passengers alive is for food.” But the insect scene dispenses with that theory. 

After watching a movie full of nonsense these things stand out in my mind:

  1. Anyone who’s spent any time around a livestock operation knows that cows consume tons of food. Cows are also big. Where are they kept in this train? Where are they slaughtered? 
  2. The genius who dreamed up this fantastical train apparently is not genius enough to know that all the things you can do on the train you could do more easily and more efficiently in a stationary building or buildings.
  3. The movie’s lead actor, Chris Evans, should fire the agent who did not see through this awful script. Evans manages to wring some sympathy and heroism from his part, but the entire thing falls to pieces almost immediately.
  4. People all over the world eat insects without any harm coming to them. In fact, some scientists argue that cultivating insect protein on a commercial scale may be a great way to solve food crises around the globe.  That and, you know, stopping wars.
  5. Insects have to eat. What they are fed is never made clear in this film.
  6. Poor Ed Harris, who plays the chief villain. I always thought of him as a distinguished actor. Then again, he did appear in “David Cassidy: Man Undercover” and “CHiPs” so his career has basically returned to where it once was, apparently.
  7. The movie has a 7.0 out of 10 rating on IMDB, proving that site is not always on target with its rating system.
  8. If a movie is in the bargain bin at the store where you shop, it is likely there for reasons you should not ignore.
Even the star power of Chris Evans can’t save this one.

Welcome to Wisconsin!

You can exercise with anything you find around the house, garage — even the television news studio. ANYTHING! As these good ole boys will show you.

Now and then the local morning news programs have a producer who books a segment with local citizens who prove to be unintentionally charming and amusing.

Now get off that couch and break out those cinder blocks and beer kegs and get yo ass movin’!

I love this so much. I really do.

Wait for the tennis racquets, which made me think these guys might have been putting everyone on.

The first movie that ever scared the crap out of me

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “The Birds” was released on this date in 1963 — for children of the era starting many love affairs with horror movies.

I was three years old and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I recall never looking at flocks of birds the same way for a very long time.

It’s held up remarkably well over the years, gaining a 7.7 rating on IMDB and a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Of course, those are the scores of movie lovers who can still appreciate what a work of art it was for the genre at that time.

If you are used to blood and gore in scary movies, it might not do much for you. General horror audiences are a bit more demanding today than a movie in which the blood is mostly measured in droplets.

For me, watching it again is worth it if for nothing else to see how Alfred Hitchcock dressed Tippi Hedren. What a dish she was.

Note also the hints of a nascent environmentalist movement, largely unheard of at the time, in the dialogue. 

Crazy that we have not progressed as far was one might expect on that issue and, in fact, are now going backwards thanks to the current resident of the White House.

Trailer below.